Sep 28 2017

Health Blogger Gibson Fined

BelleGibsonBelle Gibson is an Australian wellness blogger who made a lot of money selling her cookbooks and apps for healthy eating. What elevated her profile above the sea of competitors, however, was her claim to have cured herself of brain cancer with her diet. The problem with her story, however, is that she never had brain cancer.

Now an Australian court has fined Gibson $410,000 for  fraud.

Gibson doesn’t really tell a coherent story, and it is full of red flags, but here is what she says. She claims she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer by a German alternative medicine practitioner. She believed the diagnosis, and was just “living her truth.” Therefore, she says, she never lied to her followers, she was lied to herself.

But her story of being a victim does not really hold together. In 2011 she was given a brain scan which found her to be perfectly healthy. So she knew at that time that she never had brain cancer. However, two years later she launched her wellness app in which she claimed her diet cured her of brain cancer. She also claims that she was about to come clean with her readers, but the media got to her first. Right.

Her claim of being a victim also doesn’t explain why the money that was apparently donated to charity via sales of her app never made it to the charity.

Those are a pretty damning set of facts, and her explanations don’t really cover them. I guess the Australian court agreed.

I cases like this, however, I have to point out that to a certain extent it really doesn’t matter if she believed she had brain cancer or not. It does in terms of her guilt, but not in terms of her behavior. When it comes to the public health there is a responsibility for due diligence. It is not enough that you believe what you are doing is correct. You have a responsibility to ensure that what you are doing is the right thing.

Gibson never did any due diligence. She did not have her diagnosis confirmed prior to shouting to the world that she cured brain cancer with diet. She did not seek expert advice or oversight. She apparently never considered the risk she was posing to patients with cancer who might believe her heroic tale, and as a result forgo standard cancer therapy pursuing her diet recommendations.

When confronted about this responsibility, she (like many health gurus) tried to wiggle out, saying, “I was not an expert in anyone else’s health.” That is the nebulous world in which alternative medicine exists. Practitioners are often not doctors or health experts. Gibson was just a “wellness blogger.” They give out what is essentially medical advice, but think they have no responsibility for that information.

This is not incidental – it is core to the alternative medicine movement, which promotes itself by waging war against the standard of care and expertise. They are gurus in every sense of the word – they want to be respected for their insights and knowledge, but be held to no standard of process or competence. When challenged, they typically cite something about freedom. They want their victims to think they are defending their freedom, but in reality they are just promoting their own freedom to sell health care products and services with no oversight or quality control.

Standards exist for a reason, especially when it comes to health. It is not enough that you believe what you are doing is right. And of course, standard require objectivity, which means we need logic and scientific evidence, and that evidence needs to have standards as well.

This, of course, is precisely why the alternative medicine movement is trying to confuse and erode scientific standards.

Gibson is really no different than any health or wellness guru. She just got caught red-handed. The entire industry, however, shares her guilt. This is what happens when standards and science are dismissed as a conspiracy, in favor of sincere charlatans who are just, “living their truth.”

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